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We now spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes using technological devices every single day. That's twenty minutes more than the average person sleeps at night.
81% of people have their smartphones on constantly, even in bed, and four in ten people admit that they would use their phone in the middle of the night if it woke them up.
We're surrounded by more technology than ever before. We start using it earlier in the day, with 51% of us spending more time on the internet in the morning than we do eating breakfast or preparing for the day. We also use them later in the day, with 80% of insomniacs using electronic devices in bed.
But how is all this technology affecting our health?
Here we explore the mental and physical health effects of technology.
Physical Health Concerns
Text Neck is a spinal problem caused by bending the neck towards phones, laptops, handheld game consoles and other wireless devices for prolonged periods of time. It's most common in teenagers and children.
It causes upper back and neck pain, (which may range from nagging twinges to sharp and debilitating spasms), shoulder pain, and pain in the arm or hand if the cervical nerve (nerves in the neck) become pinched.
With Text Neck, prevention is better than a cure:
- Take regular breaks (every 20-30 minutes) from your laptop, phone and other devices. When you have a break, put your device down and walk around.
- When using devices, raise them so you don't have to bend your neck to an extreme degree.
Blackberry Thumb is a catch-all name for repetitive strain injuries caused by typing messages out with the thumb. Some people can type up to forty words a minute, which the thumb is not suited for. This leads to three potential types of injuries:
- Aggravated arthritis: Many Blackberry users are of an age-range where they may be beginning to develop arthritis. This repeated wear-and-tear aggravates any developing degeneration.
- Trigger thumb: A type of tendonitis where there is inflammation of the flexor tendon (which helps the thumb to bend). This makes the thumb catch or click when you try to move it.
- de Quervain's tenosynovitis: A type of tendonitis causing inflammation of the where the wrist joins the forearm.
While, with true tendonitis a cortisone injection may be a helpful (if unpleasant) short-term solution, the only long-term answer is to rest that thumb.
The blue lights our phones emit interfere with Melanin, making our bodies think we have to stay awake. Insomnia weakens our immune systems, leaving us prone to illness. Insomniacs are also more likely to develop cancer and experience infertility.
Sleep coach, Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan advises all patients to institute a device curfew, turning off all technology (including those phones, sorry!) ninety minutes before we go to bed. She also advises kicking all technology out of the bedroom, saying:
"Banishing technology from the bedroom is one of the easiest things people can do to promote a relaxing sleep environment and ensure they're getting enough rest for the body to recover overnight."
Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) is caused by looking at screens for several consecutive hours. It leads to headaches, and eyes that are either dry or watery. Research by the American Optometric Association shows that more than 70% of people who work using a computer suffer with CVS (that's more than 140 million people!).
Gradual watering or dry eyes is not usually a cause for concern. That said, you may benefit from seeing your optician or eye-doctor and having your sight checked to make sure you are wearing the optimal prescription (if you wear glasses) or to ensure you do not need glasses (if you currently do not). Additionally, there are some tips to reduce the strain on your eyes (courtesy of the American Optometric Association, see links):
- Make sure that your computer is at a comfortable height. Most people find positioning the computer 20 degrees below eye level and 20 to 28 inches away from their face is best)
- Every 20 minutes, look into the distance for 20 seconds to refocus your eyes. Every 2 hours, take a rest of 15 minutes.
- Blink frequently to prevent dry eyes.
- Consider a glare-filter to protect your eyes from the glare of the screens
Do you ever feel dizzy and nauseous while scrolling down your phone? You may have a case of Digital Motion Sickness, or cybersickness.
Cybersickness is a bit like travel-sickness. In travel-sickness, you feel movement, but you don't see it. That's why you feel better looking out of the window on a car journey. In cybersickness, you see movement, but you don't feel it.
Medical director of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Balance and Vestibular Center, Steven Rauch, says:
“Your sense of balance is different than other senses in that it has lots of inputs...When those inputs don’t agree, that’s when you feel dizziness and nausea.”
Problems don't necessarily stop when you return to the real world, either. Staring at scrolling images and returning to reality can make you more likely to fall and hurt yourself. It could also alter your visual perception, making you a danger behind the wheel if you go from scrolling on your screens for hours to behind a wheel of a car.